Sony NEX: The Lenses

In the first part of my review I compared the bodies of the Sony NEX-6 and NEX-7. As I mentioned then, my motivation for these reviews is to find the best way to “travel light” for a non-photographer’s trip to Turkey in June. I already own an NEX-7 with two lenses, but I wanted to (a) check out the NEX-6, and (b) find the best suite of lenses for this non-assignment. This post is all about the lenses.

Here are the six lenses I’ve used for the past four days and my comments on each:

  • 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. It’s a good-enough general-purpose lens, which I purchased as the kit lens for my NEX-7. Not particularly sharp and certainly slow, but it’s helped me get some decent shots over the past year.
  • 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6. This is the newer kit lens for the less-expensive NEX bodies, and it’s weird. I wasn’t impressed. It’s a pancake-style zoom and takes about two seconds to expand after the camera is switched on. Seems like forever. It also has a fly-by-wire “power” zoom control, which is great for smooth zooms in video but it has an annoying lag for still images. If you’re buying an NEX camera, I suggest you not buy this lens with it unless you try it out first.
  • 50mm f/1.8. I’ve owned this lens for the better part of a year. Even though it overlaps the 18-55mm in focal length, it’s sharper and faster than the kit lens. I pop it on when I need to grab more light (3 stops faster than the zoom), want the shallower depth of field or have time to take a more-careful shot that would benefit from a sharper lens.
  • 16mm f/2.8. An inexpensive prime, but disappointing, particularly when compared to the alternatives. The interesting thing about this lens is that you can buy two adaptors for it. One converts it into an even wider-angle lens (about a 12mm) and the other gives you a fisheye. I didn’t test with either of these adaptors, but I may do so in the next month or so.
  • 24mm f/2.8 (Zeiss). By all others’ accounts this is the killer lens for the NEX E-mount cameras. Now that I’ve tried it, I agree. Expensive ($1,100) but gorgeous. Sharp, high-contrast, minimal chromatic aberration. At a 36mm full-frame equivalency, this is a terrific lens for both general and high-res use.
  • 10-18mm f/4. This one is my new discovery. I’ve started shooting more with wide and ultra-wide lenses and this really fits that niche. At a full-frame equivalence of 15mm-27mm, it’s reminiscent of my Nikon 14-24mm f.2.8. Well, not nearly as spectacular, but the 10-18mm does a pretty good job considering its size. Still, it’s a bit larger and more expensive ($850) than most other lenses listed here. But I do like it.

Two lenses (the 16-50mm and the 16mm) didn’t make the cut. Here’s the plan for what I’ll be taking to Turkey, at least as of now:

  • 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
  • 10-18mm f/4 (rented)
  • 24mm f/1.8 Zeiss (rented)
  • 50mm f/1.8

Here’s my logic. The 18-55mm is fine as a walkaround casual lens when I’m outdoors in the daytime and not in my serious-photographer role.  The wide-angle 10-18mm zoom is a perfect compliment to the kit lens with the crossover between them at 18mm (27mm full-frame equivalent). But when I move indoors, need more light and don’t want to crank up the ISO, or when I simply want to spend more time on a subject, I find I switch to the 50mm or the Zeiss 24mm primes.

The only lens I’m missing in this set is something telephoto. The 18-200mm superzooms (11x) are just too large to meet my “travel light” criterion. But with a 24MP sensor on the NEX-7 I always have the option of cropping. If I shoot at 55mm and crop 2:1, it’s the same as though I had used a 110mm lens, which is the equivalent of 165mm on a full-frame camera. And I still end up with a 6MP image, which is fine for posting online and prints up to 8×10.

If you’re thinking of buying one of these bodies or lenses (or any others for that matter) I strongly recommend renting first. Personally, I use BorrowLenses.com, but LensRentals.com and even your local camera shop are good, too. For example, the two lenses I’m taking to Turkey that I don’t already own would cost me about $2,000 total to purchase. To rent the pair for four weeks will cost me only about $225.

There are always surprises with gear. There’s always something the reviews didn’t tell you or you just missed. Rent for a 3-day weekend and it won’t cost you much. I think you’ll be glad you did.

17 thoughts on “Sony NEX: The Lenses

  1. You should check out the two sigma f/2.8 primes. They are a bargain (when on sale they’re bundled for $200 both), handle very well, and can produce great photos! I preferred their focusing action to the zeiss.

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  2. It is always funny to read such kind of reviews. You said you wrote this after only 4 days of playing with the lenses. I don’t even think to epress an oppinion about anything unless extensive usage/accomodation. After owning and using for more then an year a nex5n system I can tell you a very short story: 18-55 is medium crap, the 50 1.8 is more then enough, the zeiss 24 is overrated (although a good lens), the sigmas 19 and 30 are the best for the price. The teles take all the advantage of the nex small size. The samyang 8 mm fisheye is a perfect quality/sized lens. I think that the missing lens in Sony line is an ultrafast lens, somewhere between 28-40 mm with 1.4 or even faster. And don’t tell me that lens would be huge. Just look at the size of the fast voigtlanders, fujis, etc.

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  3. i’m asking this question because is genuinely curious, not because i want to be nasty or anything: you don’t like the D800E and you don’t like the NEX-7?. if you don’t mind me asking: which camera do you like?

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    1. It’s not that I don’t like the D800E or the NEX-7. I like them both. But they have certain weaknesses. The D800E is great other than the autofocus problem. Since I generally use that body only in manual-focus mode, I get all the benefits without that drawback. My only complaints about the NEX-7 are (a) the autofocus isn’t as good as the NEX-6, and (b) I keep turning the controls by accident. Locking/unlocking them takes too long. But other than that it’s great camera and I just spent another $2,000 on lenses for it.

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  4. alin
    He clearly said he was traveling to Turkey and wanted to travel light on this trip…he also said he loved the nex7 but if he were buying now he would choose the nex6 because of the focus system….duhh…

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  5. Nice little review, I also recommend you check out the Sigma lenses. I personally have the 30mm F2.8 and it is sharp and very good for the price. They also have a 19mm, which I haven’t tried, and a 60mm that should be coming out now. They new ones are in the Art series of Sigma.

    I have also read good things about the Samyang/Rokinon 8mm F2.8 fisheye lens.

    And the coming Zeiss lenses which will be announced and come out soon should be killer.

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  6. Got the NEX7 about a year ago (body only) Purchased the 24mm Zeiss.Love it !
    I have other E mount lenses but rarely use them. Expensive but wortn every penny .

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  7. The Sony 50 and Zeiss 24 are EXCEPTIONAL. I tend to shoot mostly 35 or 90mm lenses on film, so the 24 and 50 make an exceptional pair for the NEX7.

    The Sigma 19 and 30 are also highly rated, and would make a similarly excellent 28 and 45mm equivalent, or add the Sony 50 for an extremely versatile outfit for not a lot of money.

    What really excites me (enough that I preordered both) are the new Zeiss 12 and 32mm lenses. VERY expensive, but combined with the 24 and 50 that I already have this pair allowed me to eBay my entire FF DSLR outfit and leaves only long telephoto missing.

    For long telephoto I plan to try the Sony 55-210, which Kurt Munger (whom I really trust) says is better at the long end, not to mention lighter and cheaper than the super zooms. For very high quality at longer focal lengths I use an adapter and either my 90 or 135mm Leica R lenses. The 135 becomes an outstanding 202mm f2.8 on the NEX7, though shutter speed needs to be kept high.

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  8. I bought my nex not because of the native lenses but because of the ability to use almost any lens out there in manual mode. The focus peaking feature is faster than my previous method of selecting focus points on my DSLR. I think that if you think of the Nex as a digital back for lenses instead of a body you open yourself up to a lot of flexibility. I now shoot primarily with primes. I can take 6 lenses and my Nex7 along in a tiny 5MDH bag. I think that people really need to understand the power of peaking and older prime lenses. As someone who grew up with rangefinders I’m in love with my nex. I feel like a photographer again shooting manual. I think you and Frederick need to to a twip on adapted lenses.

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    1. Agreed, Vaughn. I use my Nikon primes with a $25 adapter all the time on the NEX-7. As you say, the focus peaking makes manual focusing a breeze. Looking forward to the Metabones for Speed Booster NEX/Nikon.

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  9. I took my NEX7 with the 50mm, 18-55mm and a 18-200mm to Israel in April. I generally had the 18-200 on most of the time since I really didn’t want to change lenses. On a family type trip, I did not want to struggle with a lot of gear or annoy my wife. It worked out fine and I really enjoyed travel with a very light load.

    Have a great trip. Looking forward to seeing your photos.

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    1. Thanks, Alan. Which 18-200mm do you have? There are actually three from Sony that fit the e-mount, plus the Tamron version. I’ve tested all three Sonys and have been shooting for the past week with the smallest one, the SEL18200LE. It’s the “LE” designation and the 62mm filter size that distinguishes it. It’s smaller than the others. I find the lens is pretty good except once it starts to get even a little bit dark. Then it can be painful to get decent autofocus on the NEX-7. Haven’t tried this particular lens on the NEX-6, but I’d expect the autofocus to be somewhat better when combined with that body.

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  10. Thank you for the NEX lens overview!

    Currently I am using the D300 (18~200VR) and want a light set up for travel, candid shots and videos. Time to retire the Nikon after 20k photos… I view photos only on monitors and rarely print of which be max at 8×10 so I think the NEX6 is perfect for me. As well, I want to do more videos.

    That said, what lenses to buy? When I first started photography, I used only prime lenses with a light meter on the hotshoe but now the zooms made me absolutely lazy. Zoom IQ is not as good but it get the job done and I don’t have to be intrusive with the camera running to or from the subject. My D300 setup was not very optimal because in the end, the lens performance was shy of the camera’s capabilities.

    Now, with the NEX6, I want to put more emphasis on the glass so I WAS considering the 16~55 (until I read your review) or the 18~200 PZ for single lens set up for photos & videos. The power zoom will be good for smooth zooming in video mode. I know I will sacrifice IQ but since I have been living with the Nikon 18~200 (made in China)…. how much worse can the Sony 18~200 be?

    Or would you recommend the Zeiss lenses, the 12/24/32/50. But what about tele? With my Nikon 18-200, I find myself always longing for a faster lens for shallow DoF and faster shutter for distance shooting. I have a 50mm 1.4 but I rarely use it.

    Can you recommend what is a good setup without having to carry a huge load of lenses? Maybe wait a bit and Zeiss will have a zoom similar to the 24~70 Alpha zoom? Or can I use the Zeiss 24-70 on the NEX with a converter? Big, heavy, no power zoom for video but excellent IQ, I assume.

    Thank you and hope you are enjoying Turkey! Lovely country!

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